With a shorter shopping season and weak economic forecasts, small businesses need to go the extra mile to attract customers.
Most customers know Dashed as a food delivery service. But CEO Phil Dumontet believes its core competency is delivery. This year, he's unveiling a white glove delivery service for Christmas trees, just in time for the holidays.
"It’s an opportunity for us to tap into our hundreds of carriers across our cities, who are already making deliveries," he says, "and to offer a new service that’s special this season."
All orders are taken on Foodler.com: Users select various trees, garlands, lights, and stands. Dumonet's employees deliver the tree and set it up. "The only thing we won’t do is decorate it for you," he says.
Dashed isn’t the only company (and Inc. 500 alum) putting its personal stamp on holiday promotions. Last year, Trendy Minds, an ad agency based in Illinois, launched an annual tradition, designing its own holiday cookbook for clients. Each staffer submits a recipe with a description, and a few are photographed.
"This allows us to show off our photography, writing, and design skills," says president and CEO Trevor Yaeger. "We're also big foodies and our clients are as well."
Julie Bauer, the founder and CEO of Grok, another ad agency based in New York, says these sorts of promotions are smart moves. "I think one of the things that small companies are doing is what big companies have always done, and that is really taking a step back and saying, 'What business am I in?'" she says. "Like Dashed--they’re not in the food business, they’re in the delivery business."
She adds that small businesses who win the promotion game will rely less on tried-and-true social media campaigns and instead turn to more creative tactics that help them stand out. The only question is, Will the economy make it harder?
Projections for consumer spending over the holidays look bleak, despite booming sales of cars and houses. Even big box retailers are reportedly shaking in their boots. Walmart recently cut profit forecasts for the year and warned investors that "shoppers remain stretched," as Shelly Banjo put it in The Wall Street Journal. Worse still, the National Retail Federation predicts that the short holiday shopping season--which will only last 26 days because Thanksgiving falls late, on November 28--will be a challenge for retailers.
So it's especially important that companies provide personal touch to stand out in a crowded market, says Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy Global, a consulting and market research firm. Some of the ways companies can do that, he says, is by offering personal extras like free monogramming or engraving--a favorite at Neiman Marcus this time of year, especially at the beauty counter, where Estee Lauder compacts are engraved free of charge--or partnering with social deals like Groupon to offer coveted promotions that go hand-in-hand with what shoppers want: free food.
"People are more frugal, I don’t think that’s any secret," says Steinberg, in reference to the sluggish economy. "What people are really looking for is convenience, value and trust."
Along those lines, another way he expects small businesses to attract customers over the holidays is by offering special events, such as cooking classes, VIP lectures, or opportunities to meet a famed author or expert.
"The way these companies will compete is on loyalty," adds Steinberg. "It’s about building up a local awareness and really positive word of mouth, which has become the most positive currency of all."